Stoke City will be without striker Peter Crouch and utility player Geoff Cameron for the Boxing Day (26 December) visit of Manchester United, manager Mark Hughes has confirmed. Crouch has returned to training after a groin problem but will not be rushed back, while Cameron is nursing a hamstring injury.
The American missed the defeat to Crystal Palace with the blow and is not expected to be involved in any of the Potters' festive and New Year games, which also include trips to Everton and West Bromwich Albion. The 30-year-old has been hugely influential in a berth at the base of the midfield, making 15 appearances this season for Hughes' side.
Crouch meanwhile has been a longer-term absentee – having not featured since the Capital One Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday at the start of December – and will therefore not be fit to make his first Premier League start of the season for the visit of United. The former England striker has been rarely used this term in the top flight and his omission is set to continue.
"It is probably a little too close to call with Geoff at the moment given the time before the game at the weekend," Hughes said at the pre-match press conference, according to the official Stoke website. "I would suggest that he is more likely to miss out than to play however, which would mean we may not see him until the New Year.
"It's a busy period for us and we certainly won't be taking any risks with anyone. We have a large squad and we will utilise it if we feel the need to. It's good to see Crouchy back amongst the group but he is going to need a full week's training before we can realistically look at including him."
Just two defeats in their last nine games arguably sees Stoke welcome United as the favourites for the game, with Louis van Gaal's side having not won any of their last six – a run stretching back to mid-November. Hughes – a former United striker – is unwilling to underestimate the illustrious opponents, however.
"They are a huge club and they have a very good squad of players there," he added. "I have been asked whether this is a good time to play them but I am always wary of that because these type of clubs more often than not bounce back emphatically.
"The players have a responsibility to produce the goods more often than not. Manchester United will know themselves that they are in a period of transition and are in a different cycle now and maybe they will have to wait until they are back at the level they were at before. We are certainly taking nothing for granted."